Photo: txd, Flickr Creative Commons
My son said something a little surprising the other day. As he was mixing colors of Play Doh into a purplish gray mass, he looked up at my wife and me and said "I don't like Jesus. I don't need him. I don't need Jesus." He's at an age where he tends to reiterate whatever statement he makes, so this became almost a short chant. Now, I came out on this blog a while back about my personal lack of faith, but that's exactly what it is for me: personal. I don't discuss this issue out loud. My wife doesn't nag me about not going to church or about not believing. She's actually about as far from being a harpy as one can reasonably be. Basically, I'm saying I really don't think little E got this idea from me. In fact, we often send him off to church with my parents who take him to both kinds of religion: Southern Baptist and Primitive Baptist.
Of course, I've long since suspected that my two-and-a-half-year-old's grasp on Christian theology was a bit flimsy. Despite staying every work day with the wife of a Baptist pastor, he's never seemed to really grasp the importance of the issue. He's sung a prayer before meals for a long while now, something his babysitter taught him. The only problem was that the name the kids all call her sounds very similar to God. Basically, I think for at least six months of his life, little E prayed to his babysitter before most meals. He also came home one day with a balloon and I asked him where he got it. His reply, "Balloon is for God. For Jesus." That was kind of the extent of theology for him, I think.
Of course my wife and I are fairly secular, even though my wife is a believer and still very much an Orthodox Christian. We don't say a prayer before meals when we eat on our own. The nearest church in my wife's denomination is hours away from our home so we rarely go to church with her, and I try to avoid going to my childhood church. I haven't been in years.
The funny thing about all of this is that I tend to be an apologist for religion. Anytime I'm involved in a debate about religion, I tend to be on the side protecting the church, partly because I think most atheists are just assholes and many agnostics are holier-than-thou types without a church to back them up. I acknowledge many of the flaws in organized religion. In fact, I left the church originally because of many of those flaws. I just recognize that the issue isn't just black and white and being flawed doesn't make something wrong or evil.
I'm actually okay regardless of whether my son grows up to believe or not. I just don't want to be the main influence on his decision, although I know the fact that I set an example of not taking church attendance seriously will influence him no matter how hard I want him to make that decision on his own. Of course, I'll raise him with most of the same values, the good ones at least. My wife and I are close and we're both good people. We'll be setting good examples in most areas of morality and ethics that matter.
Still, none of that makes a little kid with blonde curls, bright blue eyes, and an angelic smile chanting "I don't need Jesus" any less creepy. Of course the next day he was singing church songs with his grandmother. Two-year-olds just like saying they don't like things. They enjoy being contrary. It gives them some sense of control during a stage of their life when they're pretty much completely out of control. He says he doesn't like me all the time. Kids that age say all kinds of crap they don't really mean.